Though it’s an absolute classic, Stephen Ross is probably not going to be able to effectively use a “Sike! Gotcha!” to get out of this one.
Mike Florio of NBC’s ProFootballTalk is reporting that there is “a belief that the league’s investigation will conclude that Ross did indeed make the offer,” referring to former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores’ claim that the owner offered him $100,000 to lose games during the 2019 season. Flores was fired in January after going 24-25 over three seasons with the Dolphins, and won eight of his last nine games as head coach. He has since sued the NFL for racial discrimination.
The NFL is in the early stages of an ongoing investigation into Ross, and Florio also reported that “there’s a sense emerging that Ross will claim he was joking.” (Not sure the NFL is going to find that one particularly funny.)
NFL-owned media affiliate, NFL.com, is also reporting that Ross could possibly be voted out of the league by the other owners with a three-quarters majority pending the league’s investigation.
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“When we know what those facts are and the impact it has on our game, we’ll deal with it very seriously, just as we will if there’s any discrimination in the league,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said last week. “They will be dealt with very seriously.”
Yeah, OK, Rog.
For one thing, there doesn’t appear to be a legitimate sanctioning system for misbehaving owners in the NFL, which we’ve learned all too quickly with the Washington situation. Ross bought 50 percent of the Dolphins franchise for $550 million in 2008, and another 45 percent in 2009 for $1.1 billion. NFL teams these days are going for around $4 billion, which would signal a significant profit for the 81-year-old Ross if he were “forced” to sell.
And for another, barring personal dislike or some larger scheme that us plebeians are woefully unaware of, there’s very little chance the owners would actually vote Ross out. They would have a vote, sure, but when they couldn’t reach the 75 percent majority, all would be forgotten, and the Dolphins organization would simply go on with the billionaire at the helm. Because if they were to vote him out — or, for that matter, if they were to vote Snyder out — then they would expose themselves to a similar fate. The owners will circle the wagons, thus preventing all-out warfare complete with voting factions and alliances and blackmail if there was something to blackmail about. To vote out one of their own would be to remove their bulletproof vests.
I’m not going to say that it’s a complete, 100 percent impossibility that Ross will be forced to sell if the NFL’s investigation concludes that he did, in fact, attempt to throw games to gain a better draft position in 2019. It may be difficult to actually prove that the offer was made, unless there were multiple witnesses to such a conversation who are willing to talk to Goodell and his investigation team, but the interesting part of all this is how quickly the NFL is suddenly able to act when they have a concrete villainous deed presented to them that directly affects what they see as the “integrity” of the game.
“Integrity” didn’t matter when it was women getting harassed under Snyder’s ownership, nor when it was qualified nonwhite coaches losing out on jobs year after year. It’s a funny word — applied here to the very embodiment of the game itself, the battle that takes place on the field each weekend that millions of American viewers trust is a true representation of how hard each team is trying to win. The integrity of the game is at stake, rather than the integrity of the league. But in a league largely lacking in integrity, how can we expect what happens on the field not to reflect such a lack?
To see Jon Gruden’s emails written out on the page in front of us, or to hear that there was a specific dollar amount offered to tank a game — those are actionable items in the league’s eyes, as well as in the public’s. How can a coach still have a job after saying things like that? How can an owner be trusted with a team whose best interests he doesn’t have at heart? But the racism and sexism — systemic issues, whose exposure relies on testimonies from women and minorities who have experienced such things in the league — garner a very different response. Because it is those people, in this case, who threaten the true integrity of the NFL, an integrity that involves those in power remaining in power, and as the Flores lawsuit put it, “racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation…The owners watch the games from atop NFL stadiums in their luxury boxes, while their majority-Black workforce put their bodies on the line every Sunday, taking vicious hits and suffering debilitating injuries to their bodies and their brains while the NFL and its owners reap billions of dollars.”
In the 2021-22 season, Flores was one of only three Black head coaches and one of five minority head coaches in the league. Two, including him, were fired in the most recent cycle.
The NFL does not want to change. The owners do not want to change. It can really all be summed up in the league’s initial response to the Flores lawsuit, in which they denied all claims that he had made — but wanted to look into the bribery. That must have been the one part that he wasn’t lying about. That was the one part that threatened their idea of the game’s integrity.
The Ross investigation is still in its early stages, and while Goodell says that the NFL will take the matter “very seriously,” he’s sort of lost credibility after the Snyder investigation. But really, what’s he going to do if the owners don’t vote? Fine the billionaire a couple million bucks? Oh no!
Though there were (and continue to be) rumors that Snyder would be forced to sell the Washington Commanders following reports of workplace harassment from top executives as well as Snyder himself, no action has been taken aside from an NFL investigation that went pretty much nowhere. Ross has denied all bribery allegations.